THIRTY years ago this month, a young TD named Tony Gregory held a government to ransom.
Having found himself holding the balance of power, Gregory brokered a development deal of £100m for Dublin’s inner city.
Not everyone approved of the ‘Gregory deal.’ Members of Charles Haughey’s government resented this ‘guttersnipe’ who had extracted so much from them, while others objected on principle: when the country was facing economic crisis, it was wrong to siphon off much-needed funds to help one area. To critics, the ‘Gregory deal’ was evidence of something rotten in Irish politics: the brazen willingness of one man — Charles Haughey — to buy political power.
Gregory had no such qualms. He saw the deal as ‘morally essential’. Dublin’s inner city was the most deprived urban area in Ireland, a squalid, crumbling wreck. It had been for decades and would have remained so because the political class didn’t care about it.
In theory, the principled objections to the ‘Gregory deal’ are correct. On a smaller scale, local deals to win the support of individual TDs have undermined the idea of a national parliament representing all people equally. What few assets the State possesses will be distributed on the basis of need, but only after those with political leverage carry off a few prizes. It was, and still is, dishonest. It’s corrupt.
Gregory knew this. Gregory knew that in an ideal world the government should have been rushing to help Dublin’s inner city regardless: because that was the place of greatest need. But circumstances were far from ideal, and within a few months the GUBU revelations brought down the Haughey government and the ‘Gregory deal’ and gave citizens another brief glimpse into the rottenness of political life in this country.
The parallels between this and parts of modern-day Limerick barely need pointing out. Except that Limerick doesn’t have a Gregory and so had to pin its hopes on grandiose promises that evaporated as soon as they were uttered. We have had our GUBU revelations in the shape of last week’s Mahon report, depicting a system bunged up with corruption: even those who were not corrupt allowed it to go on; and all for the sake of politics.
All these things are connected. To deploy the cliché, governments have to make tough choices. But as Gregory pointed out, there is also the morally essential: and to abandon the hopeless and the helpless because of political expediency is the first sign of moral weakness.
From there, it’s a short walk to looking the other way when a brown paper envelope is handed over; to politicians too scared to ask themselves why they went into politics in the first place.
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